Strength training is defined as the process of exercising with progressively heavier resistance to stimulate muscle development (American Council on Exercise). In other (less boring) words, strength training is engaging in a consistent routine in which you regularly increase your resistance level to get stronger, look and feel better, and achieve whatever goal you’ve set.
Some of the benefits of strength training include an increase in muscle fiber size, bone density, physical capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and metabolism. Strength training also aides in preventing injury and disease.
Your goals will determine your level of strength training. If you have health-related goals, you can focus on muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition. If you have skill- or sport-related goals, you can focus on power, speed, balance, agility, coordination, and reactivity.
If you are a beginner and not currently training or just recently training with newly acquired skills, you want to keep the frequency of your training sessions to 2-3 per week. As you progress to an intermediate stage, you can increase frequency of training to 3-4 times per week. For the advanced athletes with advanced skills, 4-7 times per week is the recommended amount of training frequency.
So what type of goals do you have in mind? Do you want to lose weight and shed fat to expose your long-lost abdominals? Do you want your muscles to grow to look like your favorite wrestler? Perhaps you need to get stronger for an upcoming sports season. Whatever your reasons, pick a routine, dive in, and go for it.
The following are recommended training volumes based on your training goals:
General muscle fitness > 1-2 sets > 8-15 reps
Muscular endurance > 2-3 sets > more than 12 reps
Muscular hypertrophy > 3-6 sets > 6-12 reps
Muscular strength > 2-6 sets > less than or equal to 6 reps
Power (single-effort events) > 3-5 sets > 1-2 reps
Power (multiple-effort events) > 3-5 sets > 3-5 reps
These are the rest intervals you need to keep in mind for maximum workout benefits:
General muscle fitness: 30-90 seconds
Muscular endurance: less than 30 seconds
Muscular hypertrophy: 30-90 seconds
Muscular strength: 2-5 minutes
Power (single-effort events): 2-5 minutes
Power (multiple-effort events): 2-5 minutes
After you’ve decided your fitness goals, it’s time to do a little preparation. Nobody should dive in to machines or free weights without a familiar feel for the movements involved in them. Spend the first week or two of your training schedule mastering the movements of exercise. For example, do pushups to prepare your body for the bench press. Do lunges and body squats to prepare for weighted squats or weighted leg press on a machine. Because you will be using your own body weight, you can do more reps. Meet with a personal trainer to enhance and understand the movements required for proper strength training. Once you’ve grasped the movements, you’re ready to move into assisted and weighted lifting. The cool thing about training this way is that these movements can also be used as warm-ups for your weighted training sessions. You will be dynamically stretching your body and warming it up for the movements you’re about to work.
A great way to strength train and get the most out of your workouts is to circuit train. The proper rest intervals are mentioned above, but if you can go from machine to machine and let your muscles rest in between, your heart rate will stay elevated and your muscles will be worked to fatigued, while still achieving the proper amount of rest in between sets. For instance, if you are training your hamstrings and quadriceps, set up both machines with your desired weight based on your fitness goal. Begin with the quad machine, do 1 set and immediately move to the hamstring machine. After the hamstring, move back to the quadriceps machine. Continue this process until you’ve knocked out all your sets and reps. Your quads will rest while you work your hamstrings, but you will be eccentrically working the quads while concentrically working the hamstrings. You are still getting proper rest, but you are keeping your heart rate active and your muscles working to get maximum results in your strength training. To circuit train faster, you can alternate between upper and lower body exercises. This provides ample rest between the worked body parts giving you the ability to train more areas.
A major focus of strength training should always be injury prevention. For this reason, a proper warmup and cool down are required. Walk or ride a bike for 5 minutes (at least) before a workout or any stretching. The cool down should always mimic the warmup. But there is more to just warming up. You need to focus on muscle balance. If you train your biceps, you need to train there antagonist, the triceps. If you spend a lot of time on the abdominals, your lower back needs as much attention. Flexibility plays a large role in injury prevention as well. Yoga is a great way to increase flexibility and strength at the same time. Your balance will be improved as well as your postural stability and mobility. Always stretch after your workout (regardless of whether you stretched before), for your muscles are tight and need to return to the original elastic state.
Always allow enough recovery time after workouts. Sleep is tremendous for weary muscles, as well as foam rollers, hot tubs, and of course, stretching.